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Chinese Herbal Medicine for the Immune System

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How can Chinese Herbal Medicine help your immune system?

In Western medicine, having a strong immune system is the key to resisting illness and maintaining overall health and well-being. There is lots of advice on ways to boost the immune system, from foods to supplements to lifestyle recommendations. Where to start? How to choose?

Use Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to guide your way

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes an approach that has important differences from that of Western medicine. And the practice of herbal medicine within TCM likewise differs significantly from how Western medicine uses medications and supplements. For starters, what Western medicine refers to as “the immune system” is not a system in TCM.

TCM perspective on what we call the immune system

The immune system of Western medicine loosely corresponds to TCM’s “wei qi” (pronounced “way chee”), which roughly translates as “surface energy.”  Surface refers to any part of the body that comes into contact with the outside world, such as the skin, nose, mouth, lungs, ears, and digestive tract.

In the TCM view, when your body comes into contact with an external pathogen, it sends its resources to the surface to prevent the pathogen from penetrating more deeply into the body.  This reaction produces the signs and symptoms that, to a TCM practitioner, signal which body functions require assistance. 

Your licensed acupuncturist relies on a holistic picture of your state of health, known as your TCM Diagnostic Pattern, to guide the recommendations she or he makes. Based Your acupuncturist will treat the meridians related to the body functions requiring assistance with some combination of acupuncture, herbal medicines, moxibustion, qi gong, nutritional advice, and lifestyle changes. 

How is Chinese herbal medicine different from the use of medications and supplements in Western medicine?

Chinese medicine focuses on determining where there are imbalances, not just on a pathogen or symptoms alone. Treatment focuses on balancing the systems and allowing the body itself to resolve the symptoms.  

In the case of herbal treatment, an herbalist begins with a base formula to treat the imbalanced meridian or organ system. Then the herbalist modifies it, to take into account the individual patient’s original constitution and any additional symptoms. Modifications may involve adding and/or subtracting elements in the base formula.

Chinese herbal medicine compared to Western herbal traditions

Many herbal remedies familiar to us in the West have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Over this long span of time, Chinese herbal medicine has developed into a complex and sophisticated system. The properties of each herb have been closely studied. They are characterized using categories such as temperature, flavor, and which meridians the herb affects. 

TCM Herbal Medicine understands Familiar Western herbal remedies quite differently. These differences have to do with the holistic TCM approach as distinct from Western medicine’s “one pill for one diagnosis” framework – take this for headache, that for upset stomach, and so on. 

Examples of herbs used in TCM that are also familiar in Western medicine:

  • Ginseng (Ren Shen) 
  • Astragalus (Huang Qi) 
  • Reishi (Ling Zhi) 
  • Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

See the Gaia Website for details  

How can I know which herbs are right for me?

Work with a TCM-trained herbalist

An herbalist trained in TCM can ascertain which of your body’s functions require assistance and choose the right formula for you. This is accomplished by inspection of your tongue and pulse, which, together with your body’s other signs and symptoms, constitutes your TCM Diagnostic Pattern. The herbal formulas used in TCM are often modified to achieve the best fit for each individual’s specific needs.  An herbal program typically includes formulas that clear toxins, move stuck energy, and nourish and strengthen the body – but not necessarily in that order!

Learn to recognize what your body’s signs and symptoms are saying

Your TCM practitioner can teach you to recognize what your body’s signs and symptoms are saying. Then, you can work together to support your body’s natural healing abilities. Your practitioner may suggest customized diet, plus suggestions for using supplements, together with other lifestyle modifications for long-term healthy living.  We specialize in finding innovative ways for patients to take control of their health! 

References:

Gaia Herbs Website – Herbs for Immune Support

About the author

Ja'Nelle Jefferson

Ja'Nelle of Herb & Tao Acupuncture & Wellness is an Affiliated Practitioner of Calandra Center for Health & Wellness.

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